Fight Like You’re Right, Listen Like You’re Wrong and Other Keys to Great Management by Bob Sutton

A psychology study at UC Berkeley broke students into groups of three, with one person chosen to be the leader of a project. At some point, the researchers would bring in a plate of four cookies.

“We all know the social norm is not to take the last cookie,” says Robert Sutton, management expert at Stanford’s School of Engineering. “But the research showed consistently that the person in power would take that fourth cookie. They even tended to eat with their mouths open and leave more crumbs. And this is just in the laboratory. Imagine that you’re a CEO and everywhere you go you’re empowered, and everyone is kissing your ass. You can start to see why it’s so hard to be good.”

Made famous by his 2005 book The No Asshole Rule, Sutton has spent hours studying the moves made by technology’s top leaders, including Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, and others. More recently, though, he’s turned his attention from negative qualities to what the best bosses in the world do and understand. A lot of it has to do with an innate sense of human emotions, but the good news is management can be learned.

In this Stanford Entrepreneurship Corner Talk, he breaks down what it takes to become a great boss — which, as it turns out, makes a much bigger difference than you might think.

It Really Is All About You

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric and one of the most celebrated business leaders in history said, “When you’re a boss, it’s not all about you.” But Sutton disagrees. “This is only half true,” he says. “When you look at what happens to people when they’re put into a position of authority, in many ways things really do become all about them.”

First, there’s something called the “magnification effect.” When you’re in power, suddenly everyone starts watching what you do very closely. At the same time, you start getting more credit and more blame than you deserve for organizational performance. When outcomes are dissected, it turns out that leaders are responsible for about 15% of what actually happens, but they get about 50% of the blame or credit.

For both of these reasons, the best bosses make being perceptive one of their core job responsibilities. This is easy to say but hard to execute.

Sutton cites a story he heard about a wave of 2009 downsizing. At an unnamed company, a secretary walked up to an executive vice president and simply asked, “When are the layoffs coming?” The EVP was shocked, even though cuts were secretly planned. How did she know? The tell was that he was shuffling around the office staring at his shoes all day, unable to look anyone in the eye. With the context of brewing financial trouble, his employees knew exactly what was happening and had already started to panic.

“Another thing that makes it difficult for leaders to be in-tune with their people is what I call ‘power poisoning,’” Sutton says. “When you put human beings in power, three things happen pretty reliably: They focus more on their own needs and concerns; they focus less on the needs and concerns of others; and they act like the rules don’t apply to them.” There’s even evidence that when a company is performing great, leaders become more clueless, self-absorbed, etc. Thus the Berkeley cookie study.

“When you become successful is when you should be especially wary you’re going to turn into an idiot. There’s a lot of evidence to support that.”

The Hallmarks of Great Bosses

Unless you happen to be extremely empathetic, being a good manager requires a tactical approach. This is where Sutton’s hoards of data come in handy. He’s talked to enough people to know what workers actually want in a boss — not just what they say they want.

Read the rest if this great article here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.